Going back to our discussion on why the means of production cannot be the source of surplus value, Richard was right. The way we were discussing technology/constant capital was inadequate.

The uneasiness I had with Marx’s depreciation model that only allowed the means of production to transfer, but not create, value came from what appeared to be his calculating those values using two different temporal sequences. The first is the past labor congealed in the commodity (machine, tool). This is the “dead labor” and its magnitude is fixed at the end of the production process that produced the tool/machine. Second is the amount of value transferred to the commodities produced using the machine/tool. This second calculation of how much value would be transferred to the new commodities is calculated based on how long that tool will be used—a future expenditure of time that gives rise to the depreciation model of value transferrence.

It seemed to violate one of the premises of the commodity form. But I should have guessed, rather, that it is the rigorous application of the categories of that form that solves it. The key is in chapter one on the dual nature of commodities. Indeed, Marx repeated this in chapter eight on the discussion of constant capital:

“Value exists in use-values, in things, if we leave aside its purely symbolic representation in tokens….If therefore an article loses its use-value it also loses its value.” (310).

This is easier to see with fuels and the like, elements of production that are totally consumed and their particular use-values completely altered in the labor process. But it is different for tools and machinery; they must maintain their form to do their jobs at all (311). Still, the key to the seemingly different temporal calculations of value in machines is explainable: values must have a use-value/particular/concrete form of expression—they are not auratic.

This means that the magnitude of past labor congealed in the machine or tool—its value—is indeed set by the previous labor process that produced it. But the depreciation of the tool or machine—a future calculation—is an amortization of the use-value (wear and tear) of the thing. It follows that because both forms, use-value and value, are properties of the same single object, the commodity, the depreciation of use-value in the future will eat away the past labor, value. The (future) depreciation of use-value does, in fact, set the timeline for calculating how much (past) value is consumed in each hour of production. But that past magnitude does not change. Therefore, it only appears that the value transferred to the new commodity is being calculated on the future expenditure of time. When the future amortization of use-values is mistaken for the determination of magnitude of values congealed in the new commodity (as the Italian Futurists and the 1930s Japanese technology fetishists did), it would indeed seem that value is being created by the machine outside the labor process that produced it, when, in fact, it is not.* Again, it is the conceptual rigor of the commodity form that links the two forms of value and links the two temporal calculations.

Labor-power, it should be clear, is different. The worker is “free” and moves in and out of the production process. His or her wages represent the labor time necessary to maintain him or herself. I suppose it is as if all tools and machines were free and only their maintenance needed to be paid for. This means that there is a free gift of uncompensated labor-time in the worker that is not in the means of production. And this surplus labor time is the definition of surplus value. Hence, the commodity labor-time is the source of surplus values while the commodities of the means of production are not. Advances in technology clearly can and do lead to an increase in use-values, and this is not particular to capitalism. But under capitalist relations, while machines/tools continue producing greater use-values, they cannot produce greater values. This shouldn’t be so surprising as value itself is a social relation, not a thing, specific to capitalist society. It is the historically specific social relation of the commodification of labor.

*This only means that machines/tools cannot be the source of new absolute value. They can be and are the source of relative surplus value. See chapters 12-15.